Running time: 109 min.
Release date: June 25, 1982
John Carpenter's The Thing is based on a novella called "Who Goes There?" written by John W. Campbell, Jr. and is a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World directed by Christian Nyby and produced by Howard Hawks. Carpenter has built for himself a solid body of work with films such as Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York and has quickly become a fan favorite in the horror and sci-fi genres. The Thing solidifies that reputation with chilling suspense, somewhat gory special effects and by sharing the paranoia and distrust prevalent in the film with the audience.
It's the first week of winter in 1982, and a helicopter flies over the frozen tundra of the Antarctic, chasing down a dog, taking shots at it from above. The dog finds an American research station to find safety in, but the chopper, now identified as Norwegian by the Americans, lands and brings the chase to the American base. After an accident with an explosive kills the chopper pilot, the second man is killed by Garry (Donald Moffat) after gunfire from the Norwegian threatens everyone. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) fly over to the Norwegian base to investigate what happened and find only the charred remains of a base, along with some dead bodies. One of the bodies they discover is different, containing what appears to be two faces. They take this corpse back to their camp to further investigate. Blair (Wilford Brimley) does an autopsy on the strange body but finds only normal human organs.
Meanwhile, the escaped hound is shacked up with the sled dogs but undergoes some horrendous metamorphosis. The special effects here are rather gory, as the dog bursts open, grows tentacles and attacks the other dogs. The team incinerates the creature and another autopsy by Blair reveals his belief that the creature assimilates other organisms and imitates them. The team goes through the Norwegian books and videos retrieved from their camp and discover that an alien spacecraft has been buried deep in the Antarctic ice for centuries. The Norwegians made the discovery and then pulled an alien being out of the ice, where it must have subsequently thawed and attacked their camp. With the news that the creature can imitate any living organism, they begin to distrust one another and paranoia sets in. Blair theorizes that once the creature hits civilization, mankind doesn't have much time left. He withdraws and becomes deluded, destroying the helicopter and radio system, virtually isolating the team from contact with the outside world.
There is a scene where Norris (Charles Hallahan) appears to suffer a heart attack and attempts to revive him have grisly results. This scene is a special effects coup, as a head grows tentacles and attempts to crawl away from the scene like an escaping spider. The team devises a blood test to determine who may be infected, as it is theorized that alien blood will defend itself from any perceived threat. There is another attack, more men are killed and soon the numbers have dwindled and the paranoia runs deeper. John Carpenter does a fantastic job in creating an atmosphere where even the audience doesn't know who to trust, which ramps up the suspense while watching.
The screenplay by Bill Lancaster helps build that suspense. Aside from MacReady (Russell), there isn't much depth provided to the secondary characters, which aids greatly in the viewer's distrust. We don't know these characters all that well, so when they have changed into something sinister, we don't know it any more than the other characters do. The sense of isolation provided by the setting ramps up the dread and paranoia. There isn't anywhere to hide for these characters so they may as well protect themselves.
There are some pacing issues at times as the distrust amongst the characters sometimes keeps the story from moving forward. The plot has painted the characters into a corner and leaves an ambiguous ending, but then again, the underlying theme comes full circle at that point, as we're still left with questions on who to trust. The Thing is interesting, suspenseful and eerie and the special effects are both gory and well done. For an audience that enjoys a mish-mash of horror and sci-fi, The Thing should satisfy.